Monthly Archives: January 2014

How To Re-Amp Guitars

If you’re like me, you’re not really an audio engineer despite all your research and efforts into capturing high quality sound in your home studio. Though it’s increasingly easy to buy quality gear, that doesn’t mean you have the training or experience to master it. Enrolling in engineering school, sound proofing your house, and upgrading thousands in gear is all time consuming and expensive. Fortunately, there’s an easy and fairly cheap way to record great sounding guitars. It’s called re-amping.

Re-Amping Explained

Re-amping is when you change the sound of a guitar amp on a recording after it was recorded, thus “re-amping” it. In order for this to work, the pre-recorded signal must be the one directly from a guitar. It can’t have already gone through an amp before it was recorded because the sound of that amp is permanently part of the recording. This requires a little planning and at least one special piece of gear.

The chief goal of re-amping is the ability to keep your performance but change the amp’s sound after the fact. This has several advantages:

  • Your great performance doesn’t have to be redone if the original sound quality was poor
  • You can experiment with sounds after performing, too
  • You can re-amp in a pro studio with top gear and engineers, and at a fraction of the cost
  • You don’t have to be loud when recording and yet can still use a loud, live amp

How To Record

Pro Tools 9 running on Windows

Pro Tools 9 running on Windows (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the traditional approach to recording, the guitar signal goes through any effects you’re using, into your amp and then out the amp’s speakers. Microphones then transmit this sound to tape, often after the signal passes through studio effects. All of this happens in a soundproofed room with expensive gear.

With re-amping, the process is different. The signal from your guitar may still go through your effects, but most of this should be avoided. You can still add these effects later during re-amping. The exception to this is the wah pedal, since your performance is both your hands and what you’re doing with that pedal, but this can also be added during re-amping, though it can feel weird to do so.

The signal from your guitar should go into a direct box such as the SansAmp XDI, which converts the guitar’s high impedance output to a low one required by mixing consoles. It also reduces the chance of electrical disturbance from nearby objects.

After this, you have to get your signal into your recorder somehow. There are many options for this but since I’m no expert, I will focus on computer based recording as I did it on my new album, Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid. You should still be able to take the principles and apply them to your own situation.

My Setup For Recording

If you’ve already got a computer based recording system, you already have an interface for getting signals directly into your computer software. In my case, I am using Digidesign Pro Tools LE with the Digi 001 interface for it. The signal from my guitar goes through the direct box and then straight into one of the Digi 001’s inputs. From there the signal goes into the computer and Pro Tools.

There are two basic kinds of tracks I use in Pro Tools: Audio and Aux. The Audio tracks are where the guitar is actually recorded, but I don’t always want to record. Sometimes I just want to play along with other recorded tracks, and even when I do record I want to simply flip a button or two and be ready to roll, so I have several Aux tracks set up:

  • “Play” Aux (Stereo) – takes the guitar input and routes the signal to “Amp” Aux. No effects.
  • “RecordGtr” Aux (Mono) – takes the guitar input and routes it to bus 4 (the input for all Audio tracks). I can also control the level sent to Audio tracks with this. No effects.
  • “Amp” Aux (Stereo) – receives input from either “Play”; or “GuitarLeft” and/or “GuitarRight”, and routes output to “GuitarMaster”. Has noise gate and amp simulator plug-in on it.
  • “GuitarMaster” Aux – receives output of “Amp” and adds reverb.

Of course, in addition to these, I have the actual Audio tracks for however many guitars I need. Let’s keep it simple and say it’s two rhythm guitars: right and left. So I also have this.

  • “GuitarLeft” Audio (Mono) – receives input of “RecordGtr” on bus 4, and routes to “Amp” Aux. No effects.
  • “GuitarRight”. Same. One is panned left, the other right.

Since I generally perform rock music, I want it to sound distorted, so how do I do that without using an amp? I use an amp simulator. In my case, it’s the SansAmp PSA-1 software plug in that now ships with Pro Tools. This is only found on the “Amp” Aux track (indicated by “SAP1” on the picture).

You’ll notice there are no effects on any of these except “Amp” and “GuitarMaster”. This means the signal from the guitar is going to the hard drive bare as the day it was born. Only after that is it routed into effects. This is how you preserve the original signal and still hear distortion or whatever effects you have loaded on your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) as you perform. You simply place these effects after the audio tracks in the signal chain.

To go from playing along to recording, all I have to do is mute “Play”, record enable an audio track, and hit the record button. The latter two steps are mandatory for everyone anyway, so with this setup I have only one extra button to push. When recording a guitar hard panned to one side, I usually want to hear the guitar on both sides, so instead of muting I often just changing the panning on the “Play” track to be opposite of the recorded track, and these can include anything from flangers, to a chorus, reverb, delay, phaser, EQ, etc.

Re-Amping

Now that you’ve recorded your masterpiece with the raw guitar signal, hearing a workable amp tone in the process, it’s time to change your mind about what it sounds like. This is the real power of re-amping!

The simplest version of re-amping is this: launch the amp simulator, turn the dials, and viola: you have re-amped. If you really want top level results, however, nothing substitutes for a real amp cranked up and recorded with high quality gear by an engineer who knows far more than you do about what he’s doing.

There’s nothing unusual about this, with one exception. Just as you used a direct box to change the impedance and otherwise improve the signal quality going into your computer, you now need something similar to reverse it. The Radial X-Amp is designed for this purpose, and the pro studio may already have one. You just route the signal from the mixing console into this and out the other side, and then straight into your amp unless you want to go through your pedal board first, for example. Otherwise it’s pure traditional recording, except you’re twiddling your thumbs in the control room instead of sweating over your performance and how much your multiple takes are costing you. You and your engineer are also able to tweak your amp sound to fit better in the mix with the drums and bass.

When I re-amped my album, I decided to add a wah to one lead guitar phrase and easily did so simply by placing the wah before the amp in the signal path, just like normal. My engineer set this up so that I stood in the control room while doing it. If I had wanted to add other traditional pedals, such as a phaser, I could have done this, too, but I ended up using studio effect instead partly to further keep my options open.

Another cool trick we did was simulating the sound of a guitar with the volume knob turned down. We just turned down the volume control on the X-Amp. It sounded exactly like turning a guitar knob. I had recorded the performance (the opening riff of the sound clips below) at full volume.

Coda

"Moshkill" Video

My video for “Moshkill” from NOW WEAPONIZED!

In the independent artist community, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for doing everything yourself, like a badge of honor, but don’t get too swept up in this like I once did. You might be a better engineer than me.  I never kept track of the hours I spent recording Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid, but if done in someone else’s studio at a cost of $60, it would have cost thousands. I also would’ve had to record on someone else’s schedule and availability. Re-amping stereo riffs and a single lead guitar on ten songs only cost me $700. That’s $70 per song, or the equivalent of spending only about 1 hour to perform all the guitars on a song, not to mention setup and tuning. That’s hard to beat.

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Structural Chord Progressions

A good way to make songs more powerful and structurally sound is to use chord progressions not only within sections, but also across them. This creates a harmonic relationship between sections and adds to the sense of forward motion, tension and resolution, and overall strength. A change of section can feel more logical and expected, which you can also use to your advantage by doing something harmonically unexpected.

Progression Vs. Succession

First, we must define chord progression. Since there are two ways of placing chords side-by-side but only one term, “chord progression”, everyone calls both versions the same thing. Let’s call the second version, “chord succession”.

In a chord succession, none of the chords have a relationship to the others except that first one and then another is played in succession. Playing E5, D5, and C5 ala Iron Maiden is a good example. Since nothing is going on, there’s nothing to define. It’s not even clear if this is E minor or C major.

Chord progressions, by contrast, are so involved that books are written on them, so we’ll just cover the relevant basics. It is their nature to solidly define a key by concluding with V-I (the key’s fifth chord and first one). The chords of increasing tension precede the chord of no tension, which is therefore the ultimate resolution. Several other chords can precede V-I, such as the famous IV-V-I (D, E, A). This defines the key as A major, provides tension and resolution, and moves (or progresses) the song forward purely by harmony. Let’s use the IV-V-I progression for structure.

Song Structure

So what do I mean by structural chord progression? Let’s say your song has a verse, bridge, and chorus. We’ll decide our song, overall, is in A major despite any key changes within the song. To do a structural progression, we would write the verse in A major (I), the bridge in D major (IV), and the chorus in E major (V). After the chorus, we conclude the progression by returning to the verse in A major (I). See Example 1.

In this example, the indication (V/IV) means “V of IV”, and that A major is not only I in A major, but also acts as the V chord in D major, our next key. Simply by concluding our verse on an A major chord and starting the bridge on a D major chord, we go V-I into D major.

After the verse (I), we continue forward with the bridge (IV) and chorus (V) again (Example 2). At this point, we could either return to the verse music again, or go straight into a solo in A major, but that key is sort of expected at this point, isn’t it?

Why don’t we do something unexpected, such as resolving to A minor (i) instead? It’s a nice surprise, a different tonality (being minor), and is also something we haven’t heard.

The technique can continue within a solo. To determine what keys to use, decide what section (and key) will come after the solo, then work backwards. In our example, the E major chorus comes after the solo, so it makes sense to end the solo in B major. B is V of E and makes E sound like home.

For this reason, at the coda in Example 3, we remain in E major instead of return to A major. By this point, E sounded like home anyway, and structural progressions have less strict requirements for completion.

What if our song has an introduction? This could be in A major, too, but let’s use E major to create a build up to the main music.

Here’s the final structure of our song and a recording thrown together to demonstrate it (progression jam track mp3):

Caveats

Notice how the chorus has a succession in the first phrase (I-vi-I-IV), but because I slipped in the V chord right at the end before returning to the I chord, this became a progression.

To make structural progressions work, we must clearly define the key of each section. The only way is with a chord progression, for if I were to play all the white keys on a piano, the music could either be C major or A minor, or even modal. It must be definitive.

This raises the problem of using progressions constantly when they are all very similar, which is why people avoid them in favor of successions. Still, it is possible to ignore progressions and then slip in the V-I or vii-I motion at the end of a phrase. Either that, or do it at the start of a section and then avoid it, such as the entrance to the solo.

Since structural progressions are less strict, a song does not have to conclude with a finished progression, or even maintain them within a song. Two sections can be related by key when no others are. The song above ends in E major, the key of V, but still feels over.

Coda

"Moshkill" Video

My video for “Moshkill” from NOW WEAPONIZED!

This approach can improve your songwriting and make you think of new paths for song development. The effect is often subtle, almost psychological, and yet helps retain a grip on your listener, something every composer wants. This technique and others can be heard throughout the songs on my album, The Firebard.

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Interval Riffs, Part 3: Simple Counterpoint

Counterpoint is defined as two or more simultaneous melodies that maintain their independence while still forming a harmonic relationship. A single instrument like classical guitar can perform counterpoint with three or four lines seeming like a single part. However, rock guitarists seldom do this for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

In Part One and Part Two, we examined intervals, how to write riffs with them, and different ways to melodically ornament them. The two main intervals were fifths and thirds, with each having neighbor and/or passing tones. Now we’ll go further to using mixed intervals and introduce two basic ideas in counterpoint: oblique motion and contrary motion.

Mixed Intervals

So far we’ve been using three implied chords: E minor, D major, and C major, in that order. The lower line has also been E, D, and C, and the main interval has either been thirds or fifths. What we’ll look at now is retaining that bass line, but changing what interval is above it. Take a look at Example 1.


Example 1

Using three different intervals, a third, fourth, and fifth, we have this riff as performed in Example 2:

The upper part remains on G while the lower line descends. As this happens, the G forms an E minor third with the E below it, and when the passage ends, a fifth with the C below it. G is a common tone for E minor and C major (it is in both the first and last chords).

In between at measures 5-6, while the lower note is D, G seems like a non-chord tone. After all, the notes of D major are D, F#, and A. There’s no G, but we’re playing it anyway. There are two interpretations.

One: G is a non-chord tone that works with D because G is in the chord before and after it. This makes the temporary dissonance of G not being in the chord smoother.

Two: The chord has changed from D major to being G major in second inversion (i.e., the fifth, D, is the lowest note). G major is spelled G, B, and D. Any time you’re playing a perfect fourth, the higher note is the root, as if it’s a root-fifth-octave voicing without the lower root (Example 3).


Example 3

Simple Counterpoint

In previous articles, when using thirds or fifths, we were always doing parallel motion, which means the two notes were a third apart on the first chord and remained that way as the notes moved to other chords (Example 4). Fifths were always a fifth apart.


Example 4

Now, one line moves and the other one doesn’t, which is called oblique motion. It might seem that less note movement would be less interesting, but both oblique and contrary motion create a sense of depth and space within the guitar part. The stationary note causes the following changes in this case:

  1. There are two independent parts.
  2. Three different intervals and sounds are used: a third, fourth, and fifth
  3. The chord changed from D major to G major, which also gives the bassist two options: playing D or G. If you listen carefully to the mp3s, you will hear the bass move from D up to G and then walk down to the C chord

A good use of oblique motion is to perform a V-I progression, since the fifth note of a key is in both chords. In E minor, that note is B. The V chord of B major is B, D#, F# and I chord of E minor is E, G, B). You can hold down the B while alternating the E with a D# (Example 5).


Example 5

Contrary Motion

When two lines move in opposite directions, it’s called contrary motion. This technique is useful for switching between a third and fifth in particular.


Example 6

A fifth can collapse inward to a third if the lower note moves up a step and the higher note falls a step. In doing this, C and G become D and F# respectively, so a fifth becomes a third and the chord changes from C to D. The reverse works just as well, so a third can expand outward to become a fifth (Ex. 6).

Another application in E minor or major is for the V – I progression, B major to E, as in Example 7. Here, the low B drops to the open E while the D# rises to another E, so a third becomes an octave. We can also add another B on top and leave it there for both chords (Ex. 7b). This sounds richer.


Example 7

Putting It All Together

If we combine the ideas in this article with the ornamentation ideas of the last article, we arrive at a riff like that in Example 8. This uses mixed intervals, upper and lower neighbor tones, and parallel, oblique and contrary motion. Notice the last beat of measure 8, where C5 collapses to D3, which then rises in parallel to Em3. Hear the mp3, where the bass guitar line outlining the G chord.


Example 8

Coda

"Keeping Pace" video

My video for “Keeping Pace” from NOW WEAPONIZED!

Counterpoint is a simple way to add depth to your parts for a more spacious, richer guitar riffs, especially when combined with mixed intervals. In subsequent articles, we’ll go through the song “Motif Operandi” from my first album, The Firebard, riff by riff to see these applications and variation techniques in practice.

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Interval Riffs, Part 2: Ornamentation

In a previous article, Interval Riff Basics, we looked at and heard examples of using only two notes, or intervals, for rhythm guitar parts. The two main intervals are fifth and thirds, with the latter adding more variety and color to your riffs. Now we’ll look at ornamenting these two basic sounds with melody fragments. Doing so also introduces other intervals, including seconds, fourths and sixths, but each will be subservient to our core intervals of the third and fifth… at least for now.

Ornamenting Thirds

There are two types of notes in music: chord tones and non-chord tones. Our ornamentation will be done with non-chord tones, specifically the one called a “neighbor tone”. A neighbor tone is next to a current chord tone, and is approached and left in opposite directions. For example, if holding an E minor third (the notes E and G), and the upper note, G, drop down to F#, and then back up to G, the F# is a neighbor tone. See Example 1a.

In this case, the F# is a lower neighbor. There is also an upper neighbor, which would be A. See Example 1b. Listen to this example of thirds ornamented with lower neighbor tones. Within the example are major thirds, a minor third, and major seconds, as shown in Example 2.

Notice how there is a constant eighth-note pulse on the 5th string throughout this example, and that an interval of one kind or another is only sounded at certain accents, when both notes are sounded. At that moment, the muting from the right hand is lifted so the chord can be heard. This brief moment is one reason the relatively dissonant interval of a major second (E and F#) works. If you were to sound the major second and let it ring longer, it sounds much more dissonant.

Example 3 and its accompanying mp3 use both lower and upper neighbors to create a more active line. Of special note is the last measure, where an F# was used because it is in the key. With the C below it, it creates an augmented fourth, which usually sounds like it should resolve upward by step to the fifth, which is the case here. The F# is also a passing tone, not a neighbor tone, and such a motion is discussed below.

Ornamenting Fifths

Just like thirds, fifths have both a lower and upper neighbor. The lower neighbor is usually a perfect fourth, while the upper one can be either a minor or major sixth, depending on where you are in the key. See Example 4.

In most of Example 5, the perfect fourth is used, but listen again for the augmented fourth (the F#) above the C, as expected by the key of E minor. It is possible to use the perfect fourth above C and introduce an F natural.

Connecting Thirds and Fifths

To connect a third with a fifth above the same root, such as E, another kind of non-chord tone is used: the passing tone; in this case, a fourth. A passing tone is approached and left in the same direction. For example, with E on the bottom continuously, G can pass through A on its way to B, moving from the interval of a minor third, through a fourth, to a fifth. The opposite direction works equally well. See Example 6.

Of course, it’s not necessary to connect the third and fifth at all. You can simply alternate.

This final mp3 illustrates a riff connecting thirds and fifths as in Example 7.

Coda

Adding ornamentation is a good way to introduce melody to your rhythm guitar parts, but we’ve only scratched the surface of what can be done. In a future article, we’ll explore counterpoint and see how to write two different lines for one guitarist to play alone.

In Part Three, we introduce counterpoint.

To hear and see some interval riffs in an actual song of mine, watch this video of my song “Crunch Time”. The riffs are in the upper left guitar part onscreen.

Video for "Crunch Time"

My video for “Crunch Time” from NOW WEAPONIZED!

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